WTA Beijing QF Preview: Konta battles on in the China Open
By Ros Satar
- Johanna Konta  def. Karolina Pliskova  6-1 3-6 7-6(2)
- Faces Zhang Shuai for the third time this year, and second time in two weeks
- Inching closer to making the WTA Finals line-up
BEIJING, CHINA – Johanna Konta got her first win over nemesis-like Karolina Pliskova, but faces a home-crowd favourite in Zhang Shuai with Singapore still a possibility.
Johanna Konta  def. Karolina Pliskova  6-1 3-6 7-6(2)
In what was fast becoming a monkey on her back, the No. 1 Brit faced Pliskova for the sixth time in their careers, in what could be viewed as an up-coming rivalry. Last year, Konta was still pulling herself up towards the Top 100 when Pliskova beat her on home turf (literally) in Birmingham.
The pair have since met now three times more, and Pliskova extended her unbeaten run over the Brit and three times in the previous five attempts, Pliskova had to come from a set down to win.
So when Konta roared into the lead with two successive breaks to wrap up the set 6-1 after a rain delay, there was perhaps cause for some cautious optimism, but as Pliskova unsettled the Brit who had to fend off six break points before Pliskova finally converted on the seventh, that optimism took on a sense of gloom to match the moody Beijing skies.
That was further compounded as Pliskova carried that momentum through to break early in the decider, but Konta is nothing if not determined, breaking Pliskova twice as the pair played cat and mouse. The Czech claimed the second break back and hung on with typical determination to force a tie-break.
No doubt her nerves were settled with an early mini-break and buoyed with another to put her in the driving seat, closing it out for the first time of asking. It was a great confidence boosting win over a player she has rarely found the answers for when asked.
Konta  v Zhang Shuai – H2H: Konta leads 3-1
If Konta beating Pliskova was shock enough for the day, there was more to come with World No. 1 and top seed Angelique Kerber dispatched in straight sets, followed by the fourth seed Simona Halep, stunned by Zhang.
The home-crowd favourite stunned Halep in the first set, with the Romanian so far away from the scoreboard she may as well have been on a plane to Singapore now. Although there was a flurry of resistance, Zhang pushed through in straight sets and gets a chance to reap some revenge over the Brit.
In front of another Chinese crowd Konta took control of the match and progressed in Wuhan with quite some ease. Add to that a moment of history for both players earlier this year at the Australian Open, with the Chinese player winning her first match in a Grand Slam in in 14 attempts and backing that up with a run to the quarter-final.
There she met an inspired Konta who finally came untuck in the next round against the eventual champion Kerber but it has served as a springboard particularly for the Brit, while Zhang is edging close to her 2014 career high of No. 30 in the world.
Zhang will look to pin Konta to the baseline to stop her from aggressively pushing forward. She is pretty solid off both wings and can open up the court nicely so Konta will need to be at her aggressive best to try and shorten the points, or at least be prepared to hang in there and keep pace with Zhang.
There was an edge and an anxiety we rarely see with Konta as she came closer to getting that first win over Pliskova, and as much as she tries to dismiss the prospect of Singapore, she is already assured of a spot in the WTA Elite Trophy the week later in Zhuhai. Of course there is nothing to stop her from taking up the alternate role she has currently secured – her win put her 10th in the race and with Carla Suárez Navarro out, she could leapfrog the Spaniard for the ninth spot.
Prediction: Konta in two sets.
Konta and Zhang are scheduled on the National Tennis Stadium, not before 4:30pm (9:30am BST).
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